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Tag Archives: Birch Libralato


Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light.[1]

Le Corbusier

In society’s march to urbanization citizens are left with the forced burden of vertical living such as is seen in the mass production of condominiums. Such tacit compartmentalization of the resident is not only imposed today but also subsequently accepted. This in turn leads to a turning inward and a de-personalization as the individual is a captive of mass replication.

 To this end, Renee Van Halm has captured this internalization and exposed the inner environment of both private and public space in her exhibition Reverse Engineering. In a series of grid like settings, Van Halm has set out to highlight the ubiquitous box that serves as dwelling place for both worker and tenant. Devoid of all human form, the depictions focus on the interior or “reverse” view of shelter as existence. Inner surroundings are broken down into a sequence of light filled spaces and shapes in differing hue that read as abstract form but also serve as functional architecture. In this world of textured atmosphere space itself becomes a blatant energy that is both palpable and shifting leaving all expectations, so to speak, at the door.

 With deliberate precision Van Halm has deliberately colour blocked square and rectangular shapes that when viewed, either reveal or reflect the intended impersonal scene. What could be read as having a Mondrian influence the abstract geometrical interiors are states of pure form, chroma and rhythm where horizontal and vertical lines and planes intersect. As such one can also immediately refer to the De Stijl movement and the premise by this group that the edifice should be a “total work of art, incorporating colour, form and intersecting planes.”[2] Proponents of this movement also favoured an anonymous and depersonalized aesthetic that can be read into the interiors of the paintings. A sense of a scaled down sensibility with the possibility of the utilization of a breathing and living space is also reflected. Instead of imagining a state of passive complacency, the intended occupant in these interiors could be an active participant within the art of dynamic habitation.   

 Van Halm has taken images from Modernist buildings in Vancouver and Berlin and has also instilled a sense of the architectonic possibilities of the Cubist picture plane. The influence shown in these works by the artist come from the deconstruction of collages by the Cubists’ and the subsequent re-formation of the intended image. The idea behind this was to envision differing viewpoints and the “unfolding” of the object in the immediate environment. What had at once been utilized for one purpose is now taken apart and assembled anew with implication of a new function. The images on display in Van Halm’s body of work ask the viewer to imagine the inward process and function of an architectural space. I like the implication that the artist utilizes in these paintings and the fact that they reference historical precedents from the past along with the excitement of a new envisioning of space.

Boss Window Image courtesy of Birch Libralato

 In Boss Window we are shown a vague shot of what could be interpreted as both a depiction of an interior view or one that is looking out to an exterior environment. Here all sense of foundation is lost as the viewer is left to interpret colour and intersecting planes with a suspended sense of judgment. The diaphanous pale blue rectangle along with the reflection of window frames in the lower third of this vinyl polymer on linen painting depict what could be the blissful core of a light filled loft full of potential for the joyful buyer. The dissecting black vertical form to the left may be interpreted as a pillar or interior piloti which serves to anchor the weightlessness of this mechanized interior. In fact the architect Le Corbusier had spoken of and advocated the new dwellings of his era as a “machine for living in”[3]  where the necessities of the interior were stripped down to a bare minimum. This tenet is definitely at play in the depiction as one is left with the sense of aloof coldness within this habitat. Looking further into the painting the spectator is afforded what could be a possible infinite view towards a murky backdrop of perhaps other dwelling machines. Van Halm has seamlessly blended figure and ground in an optical collage that blurs distinction between interior and exterior.

Gallery Image courtesy of Birch Libralato

 Keeping the “machine” reference in mind, we are afforded a glimpse into a stripped down aesthetic with Gallery where the icy coldness is again at play in wall, cabinetry and a bank of overhead fluorescent fixtures. While the occupant is detached from the surroundings, the interior fixtures serve as a necessity of living for the inherent function that they will serve in this modernist setting. As this depiction reads as a repository for inhabitation ready and waiting for all personal human touches, one still senses that there is a larger domination hovering over the inhabitant who must remain subservient to the architecture itself. For instance, the aforementioned bank of luminous lighting hovers above like the mother ship ready to engulf and swallow those below. Do we inhabit the space or does the structure itself inhabit the occupant? As modern architecture becomes at times more impersonal these are the considerations that builders must grapple with, which must also strike a balance between form and function.

 Van Halm renders space and emptiness as a substance to be manipulated with while at the same instance leaving us at odds with such an aloof realm. The masses themselves are forceful and imply a sense of push and pull. Voids and wall take on a strength unto their own and planes act as counterweight to the surrounding space merging both architecture and light with a manipulated aesthetic.

[1] Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture, Paris, 1923.

[2] See William J.R. Curtis, Modern Architecture Since 1900 (London, Phaidon Press Ltd., 1982),  p.152.

[3] Ibid., p. 171.